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As the name implies, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplained death of a child younger than 1 year old.
It’s a frightening prospect because it can strike without warning, usually in seemingly healthy babies. Most SIDS deaths are associated with sleep (hence the common reference to crib death) and infants who die of SIDS show no signs of suffering. Most conditions or diseases are generally diagnosed by the presence of specific symptoms; however SIDS diagnoses come only after all other possible causes of death have been ruled out through a review of the infant’s medical history and environment.
SIDS is the worst tragedy parents can face, a tragedy which leaves them with a sadness and vulnerability that lasts throughout their lives. Since medicine can not tell them why their baby died, they blame themselves and often other innocent people. Their lives and the lives of those around them are changed forever.
This lack of answers is part of what makes SIDS so frightening. SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants 1 month to 1 year old, and claims about 2,500 lives each year in the United States. It remains unpredictable despite years of research.
According to the National Institutes of Health, health care providers don’t know what exactly causes SIDS, but they do know certain things can help reduce the risk of SIDS.
Always place babies on their backs to sleep — Babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides. Placing your baby on his or her back to sleep is the number one way to reduce the risk of SIDS. Place your baby on his or her back every time, for naps and at night.
Place your baby on a firm sleep surface, such as a safety-approved crib mattress covered with a fitted sheet — Never place a baby to sleep on a pillow, quilt, sheepskin or other soft surfaces.
Keep soft objects, toys and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep area — Don’t use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins, or pillow-like bumpers in your baby’s sleep area. Keep all items away from the baby’s face.
Avoid letting your baby overheat during sleep — Dress your baby in light sleep clothing and keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.
Other potential risk factors include smoking, drinking or drug use during pregnancy, poor prenatal care, prematurity or low birth-weight, mothers younger than 20 and tobacco smoke exposure following birth.
Most deaths attributed to SIDS occur between 2 and 4 months of age, and incidence increases during cold weather. Black infants are twice as likely and Native American infants are about three times as likely to die from SIDS than white infants. More boys than girls fall victim to SIDS, as well.
For more information on SIDS, contact the Hardin County Health Department at (270) 765-6196.
Donny Gill is a health educator with the Hardin County Health Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.